It may be a generalisation but there are few countries in the world that love betting as much as Chinese.
Legally, it is not easy to gamble in the country. though neighborhood games of mahjong with friends is not going to get the attention of the police. It is possible to bet officially with state-backed lotteries but the odds are not that great.
Yet that legal lottery market was worth about $63 billion in 2018. The size of the illegal market is estimated to be at least ten times bigger and is thought not to be far off $1 trillion.
‘So there are tens of millions of Chinese who bet online and there is a small but growing niche that is looking more and more at soccer in the United States.
“Official figures are always a little difficult to be exact about as betting is officially not allowed,” said Zhang Lei, a Shanghai-based consultant who advises Chinese gamblers on overseas sports betting.
“But we have seen a rise in Chinese bets placed on MLS in the past two or three years. We estimated that in 2018 that there were over 100,000 Chinese fans betting on MLS games at least once. It is a market that could be as worth as much as $30 million and it could be much more than that and 2019 has been busier.”
According to Zhang, the big European leagues are still the most popular but the US is carving out a niche. “People still like the English Premier League and others as there is more of a community there but MLS games often take place in the Chinese morning. That means there is not much competition for interest.
“We have found that gamblers who have enjoyed a good evening in European leagues will look to continue that streak as early as possible and the American games are usually the next ones to come. At that time there is no competition. there may be games in South America but North America is regarded as more reliable.”
What they are looking for are good odds, obviously, but just as important is credibility.
The biggest one is that the games are seen as clean. Chinese fans are not big fans of betting on Chinese games probably because there is still a lingering feeling that local games are not to be trusted.
The ‘Black Whistles’ scandal of the previous decade just confirmed suspicions that referees were not to be trusted. The government has worked hard to clean up the Chinese FA with a number of leading officials receiving lengthy prison sentences. That has helped clean up the game with sponsors and businesses getting involved but there is still the lingering fear that the results are being manipulated.
That is why American soccer is seen as a good place to bet. It is seen as clean and convenient and Chinese fans are going to keep betting on soccer in America.